Messages About Sun Protection and Skin Cancer Must Include People of Color

Jun 07

With the official start of summer approaching in the next two weeks the thought of outdoor events and relaxing vacations fill my mind. When the summer sun hits my skin I immediately feel happy. I’m ready to throw caution to the wind and hit the beach – which is exactly what I did last weekend. I had perfect beach weather in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

After enjoying a day of lounging and playing in the ocean I noticed my friend, a fair-skinned African American woman, with a nice red glow. She’d forgotten to apply sun screen and had a pretty serious burn. Her painful predicament reminded me just how important sun protection is, and how sharing this message with everyone, especially people of color, can save a life.

Last month The Huffington Post posted the article, Skin Cancer and African Americans: Why You Shouldn’t Ignore It that focused on this topic.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer comprises just 1 to 2 percent of all cancers among African Americans, but less than half of melanomas in African Americans are diagnosed at an early stage compared to 74 percent in Hispanics and 84 percent in Caucasians. Reggae music lovers may remember that reggae legend Bob Marley discovered a type of malignant melanoma under the nail of one of his toes, and the cancer ultimately spread to his lungs and brain causing his death 31 years ago.

While skin cancer is less likely in people of color, it is more deadly because it is most often caught in its later stage. The article also provides an interesting slide show to address the most common misconceptions about cancer in dark skin, such as black people don’t get skin cancer (we do!) and dark skin is a natural SPF (not entirely true!).

Even the American Medical Association (AMA) has adopted the cause. In 2010 the AMA established a policy to support and encourage efforts to increase awareness of skin cancer risks, skin cancer screening and sun protective behaviors in communities of color. The policy includes partnerships with the National Medical Association, the National Hispanic Medical Association and the American Academy of Dermatology to get the word out about the importance of sun protection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides the following tips on ways everyone can protect their skin from the sun:

  • Take precautions against sun exposure every day of the year, especially during midday hours (10 a.m. – 4 p.m.), when UV rays are strongest and do the most damage. UV rays can reach you on cloudy days and can reflect off of surfaces like water, cement, sand, and snow.
  • Seek shade, especially during midday hours.
  • Cover up with clothing to protect exposed skin.
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim to shade the face, head, ears, and neck.
  • Wear sunglasses that wrap around and block as close to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays as possible.
  • Put on sunscreen with broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection and a sun protective factor (SPF) of 15 or higher.
  • Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps. The UV rays from them are as dangerous as the UV rays from the sun.

I plan to share these tips with my friends and hopefully this weekend we’ll avoid sun burns!

What are sun protection habits you use regularly? Do you encourage friends and family to do the same?

This entry was posted on Thursday, June 7th, 2012 at 2:43 pm and is filed under Public Health. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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